Sunday, June 22, 2008

There Will Be Singing

And all at once
I knew at once
I knew he needed me.

Until the say I die I wonder why
I knew he needed me
It could be fantasy or maybe it's because...

He needs me
He needs me
He needs me
He needs me
He needs me
He needs me!


Years after his hitmaking day were over, the great Harry Nilsson provided the score for Robert Altman's unfairly maligned Popeye (1980), a triumph of costume and production design over story, but a sweet little comic-strip fable nonetheless.

Twenty-two years later, Paul Thomas Anderson, who went from stand-by director on Altman's final film, Prairie Home Companion, to his own acclaimed There Will Be Blood, gave shambling epic "He Needs Me" a new lease on life via Punch-Drunk Love.

In case you haven't heard the former or seen the latter, or if you could use some awkwardly charming, deeply romantic Shelley Duvall goodness to brighten your day...

A startling 28 years passed between the first time I saw Popeye and the second
(the Northwest Film Forum programmed the movie just a few months ago).
Afterwards, I wondered why I find "He Needs Me" more affecting than Bj/drk's "Pag-
an Poetry," with its similar refrain, "He loves me, he loves me, he loves me, he loves me," followed by the echo, "She loves him, she loves him, she loves him, she loves him." (Bj/drk concludes by deciding, "This time, I'm gonna keep it to myself.")
When Bj/drk sings those deceptively simple lines, you believe every word (I al-
ways assumed she was referring to Matthew Barney). And in theory, love should trump need, because the latter suggests a singer who can't live (Nilsson alert!) without the object of their affection, i.e. someone who can't stand on their own
two feet. Except Duvall's Olive Oyl doesn't sound weak or desperate, but rather
delirious in Popeye's affection. So I give the edge to Nilsson by way of Duvall.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
One of the highlights of the film is when she sings all by herself on a
moonlit pier the silly ditty "He Needs Me" and the movie soars with a
whimsical understated charm that is both memorable and wonderful.

-- Pablo Vargas on Popeye
For the original context, please click here. "Pagan Poetry" appears on Bj/drk's
2001 album, Vespertine. Images from the All Music Guide, Godless Romantic
by way of Revenge of the Castanets, and The Spinning Image.


  1. My favorite part of the song: "...but *he* does!"

  2. Good point. Also, I neglected to stress the difference in point of view. "He Needs Me" would seem less celebratory if Duvall/Oyl were singing "I Need Him." I think it's more empowering to feel needed than to need.

  3. Read my posting more carefully.
    I said bad things about Prairie Home Companion...about Popeye I said:
    "I always had a soft spot for Popeye, especially Shelly Duvall's remarkable portrayal of Olive Oyl."

  4. Thanks for your comment. I apologize for the confusion, and have updated this post accordingly. From the way your entry was written, I thought you were castigating the *music* in "Popeye," not "Prairie Home Companion." It was clear to me, however, that Altman's last movie did not make a favorable impression on you. I liked it well enough, but was expecting something more from the man behind "Nashville," "McCabe and Mrs. Miller"--and, yes, even "Popeye."